19 May 2015

NFV and SDN: Are Your BSS/OSS Systems Ready?

The fundamental shift from physical to virtualized network functions with NFV is the next step forward for communications service providers. The ability to move traditional services such as routers and firewalls onto virtual machines will allow organizations to quickly respond to the demands put on their network in a cost-efficient and flexible manner.  With the help of industry groups such as ETSI and the TM Forum, this step forward is finally becoming a reality.  Operators are now poised to begin adopting these new technologies and start delivering new products to their customers over fully virtualized networks.

But do operators have the right BSS/OSS systems in place to start testing these new offerings? In order to start selling the next wave of network services, operators will need a BSS/OSS platform that is agile enough to handle their current network services while adopting and deploying an entirely new set of virtualized products and services. While SDN and NFV may not be the norm today, most analysts agree they are the key to re-balance the business lost by over the top service providers and gaining advantage in a highly competitive digital world. In order to compete today, service providers need to take the next step forward to virtualize and optimize their network services and a BSS/OSS solution that is up for the challenge.

Where we Stand: ETSI and TM Forum Today

The current landscape for SDN and NFV is finally becoming a commercial reality with the hard work of the TM Forum and ETSI. On the network side, ETSI is laying the groundwork for operators to explore replacing their traditional network functions with highly flexible, virtual machines. From the business and operations perspective, the TM Forum’s ZOOM project has been important in defining how the business cases associated with NFV and SDN will evolve. The hope is that these specifications are starting to gel together to create a viable platform for service providers to start deploying NFV and SDN technologies.

How close are these organizations? Work in NFV has already becoming a reality with NFV deployments underway in dozens of communication service providers worldwide. For SDN, the first commercial deployments are also expected to arrive in 2017 if not sooner. As progress continues, these new technologies will start to expose themselves to the OSS and BSS layers.

While movement towards these new technologies is taking place, service providers aren’t expecting to switch to NFV / SDN models with the flick of a switch. Legacy networks and virtualized networks will co-exist for years and the BSS/OSS space will be forced to adopt them gradually.

Is your BSS/OSS Ready?

So where does this leave operators? How can they future proof their BSS/OSS to start adding virtualized resources while continuing to deliver traditional services and resources?

The answer lies in where legacy BSS/OSS systems fail. If the goal is to quickly adopt and launch these new services along-side traditional network offerings, most legacy BSS/OSS systems will struggle to realize the true benefits of NFV and SDN. With a new set of network functions, and an entirely different set of resources to work with, it is crucial that the BSS/OSS layer is governed by a unified enterprise product, service and resource catalog. If product, service & resource data remains in multiple silos, integrating these new products could be a costly and time-consuming undertaking that will undercut the true value these virtualized network services hope to deliver.

In order to adopt these new products and services, and ensure they can be successfully deployed, services providers require a unified product catalog to create, sell and deliver alongside their current network offerings.

The Catalog is the Key

Everything starts with the catalog. Your product, service and resource catalog will be the central location for building and defining these new products, exposing them to your sales channels and delivering them with zero-touch automation. It becomes a standards-based, catalog-driven solution; the center of what you are doing currently with your physical network and a host to all of the new virtualized network functions.

The Key to Create

The first step for service providers will be to define and integrate virtualized functions into their catalog. With a whole new set of rules and restrictions, continuing to standardize the specifications and policies of NFV will be crucial in their operational success. Not only will these new functions be deployed into the OSS/BSS layer, they will also need to work in conjunction with existing voice and video and cloud applications. Mapping of this all into one centralized catalog will allow for a combination of physical and virtual network functions.

With the end goal of operationalizing virtualized functions across BSS/OSS, service providers should have a catalog-driven environment that allows them to re-use and bundle these product offerings and deploy them across sales channels. For example, they may want to create a home security bundle that mixes customer premise equipment with virtualized functions and specifications. By bundling these together, the operator can then re-use the virtualized functions for creating an e-health package. This is all made possible by defining all the products, resources and services within a unified enterprise-wide catalog.

The Key to Sell

Once you have defined a library of new virtual network functions, and created sellable products within your catalog, you can start to expose these new products across your sales channels. Using a configure price-quote system that integrates seamlessly with your catalog is the best option, as it will allow you to quickly start selling these new products across multiple sales environments.  From here, your sales team will be able to sell the traditional services and cross-bundle them with the new virtual components and resources. The CPQ environment should also enable service providers to expose these across multiple channels, from self-service client portals, call centers and CRM solutions such as Salesforce. With a catalog-driven approach, all of this is possible. Without it, sales teams will struggle to turn these new virtualized functions a commercial reality.

They key to deliver

The final step is to execute on the orders captured through your sales channels. Your virtualized products will have entirely different fulfilment requirements in contrast to your traditional network services. It will be crucial to continue to utilize a catalog-driven approach to manage and fulfill these orders. With an advanced catalog-driven order management system, the capabilities defined in the catalog can be decomposed into complex service chains and delivered directly to an end customer. When an order comes through to the order management system it may contain a mixture of traditional and virtualized network services. Because the rules and restrictions were created earlier in the process, these rules can easily be expressed in the orchestration process. Working in parallel with your physical network capabilities, the VNF orchestrator can configure those virtualized network functions automatically and in real-time.

Focus on the Future with a Catalog-Driven Approach

Network function virtualization and software defined networks are widely seen as the next evolution for service providers. Without a strong, catalog-driven approach in place, service providers will be stuck building custom integrations for these new functions that will cost the organization over time.

But with a catalog-first approach, service providers are poised to have a system that is built for the years to come and give them control to manage both virtualized network and physical networks as these new services emerge. By bringing everything into a catalog-driven environment operators can continue to modernize their infrastructure while applying the product lifecycle management, order management and activation to these new virtualized functions.

With investments in NFV and SDN expected to grow by 20 times by 2018, service providers will be looking to monetize on their new network investments. As service providers move closer and closer to adopting these new technologies, they will require standardization and simplification of these network features.   Adopting a catalog-driven approach is the key for leveraging the value across services, infrastructures and policies. Having a catalog-driven BSS/OSS system in place will give operators the agility they need to quickly build, use and re-use new products today while at the same time innovating the new network technologies of tomorrow.

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